Second year students on the National Diploma in Art & Design programme were set a brief with a difference by Lauren Timsuwan, Director of the Bamboo Rooms. She asked them to design a unique drawing, painting, photograph or 3D wall relief inspired by body decoration for display in the studio’s Shipley premises.
Five pieces of work would be selected and these would be seen by the studio’s large clientele who may wish to purchase the work. In addition to these commercial opportunities, there was a very special chance for learning, as one person would be selected to spend a day in the studio, watching the master tattooist at work. All the students benefited from their studies of the aesthetics and cultural history of tattoos and body decoration from around the world.
The Bamboo Rooms is far removed from many people’s perception of a tattoo studio. Thai master, Preecha (aka Keng) Timsuwan employs traditional bamboo techniques which date back over 3000 years, having learnt from the age of fifteen from the same temple monk who taught the tattooist whose work on Angelina Jolie raised the profile of the ancient art in Hollywood. He uses bamboo with a needle shaped on to the end and each design is an exclusive work of art. Keng’s current base is due his wife, Lauren’s desire to return to her West Yorkshire roots. However, due to his international reputation, clients from all over the world have beaten a path to his door.
Lauren explained, “Our studio is the only one of its kind in Europe, producing outstanding works of art. You only find this type of work in Thailand and Japan but as we are governed by strong health and safety laws in the UK many people would prefer to have it done here.”
The Bamboo Rooms is keen to distance its operation from tattooing’s former downmarket associations and Lauren emphasised their varied professional client base. She advised, “Tattoos are now de-classed. We have business people, teachers, lawyers… practically the whole of the West Yorkshire Constabulary coming to us! There are two types of studios - the low tattoo parlour and the bespoke tattoo studio where people expect to pay around £600. We have had people who have had 3 days or even five days work done.
If you want to make money from being an artist there are only two ways to go at the moment: interior design or tattooing. It is a career direction talented artists should consider but if you can’t draw you should stay out of the industry. Previously it was ok if you could copy and colour in, but with the very high profile, celebrity led fashion it requires great skill. You need to be a good portrait artist and be able to do 3D work, as well as having the people skills to sit customers down and talk to them about exactly what they want before you create it. You also have to be continuously inspired. My husband is an artist first and a tattooist second. He had painted temples for the King of Thailand.”
This distinction was recognised by the students. Course Tutor, Dale Cochrane reckoned, “They understood the line between modern attitudes to tattoos pulling away from the old image. This is the best project this group have done. They did detailed research and explored many areas before coming up with a varied response.”
Lauren continued, “We are not about shock but doing a really nice piece of artwork which you can appreciate even if you don’t like tattoos. The high end reputation has grown from celebrity culture. People are now wanting more and more work done and continuously working on their bodies to express their individuality. Some people have very personal tattoos. We are very responsible though and we won’t do fashion tattoos or names when the client is only young. The industry is changing but closed, so to get a placement is almost impossible. We are in the process of setting up a school to teach artists to tattoo where we will charge £3000 per week. On this basis the one day’s tuition is worth £600, and although our day’s placement will be more introductory, it will be an invaluable opportunity to see how a professional studio is run. The winning student will realise what is required if they wanted to pursue this as a career. ”
Emma Louise Burton won the placement for her sophisticated sculpture playing multimedia images of body art.
Given the high standard of the work, choosing just four additional pieces to exhibit at the Bamboo Rooms proved a difficult task.
Lauren admitted, “I love a lot of stuff very different reasons, but for the studio I have picked an eclectic mix of styles and taste. I have also bought one of the other pieces – the skull mask made by Zishahn Shehzad – as a present for Keng.”
The four runners up who had their work chosen for display were Rebecca Clarke, Samera Fatima, Brigitte Ingham and Joshua Riley. All the talented young artists were delighted to have this new audience for their work.